Covered by NYDaily News. Las Vegas man accused of threatening a prominent attorney and making vile remarks.
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Juror who prompted calls for new Ghislaine Maxwell trial turns to lawyer who defended Anna Sorokin.
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Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 02:18 pm
As a lawyer who has defended clients against RICO charges, I wanted to provide some insight into these complex federal charges. RICO stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was passed by Congress in 1970 to combat organized crime and racketeering.
In this article, I’ll explain what RICO charges are, what the elements of a RICO violation are, and some of the key defenses we raise on behalf of clients facing these allegations. I’ll also discuss the serious penalties defendants can face if convicted under RICO, and why the government pursues these charges so aggressively.
RICO makes it a federal crime to engage in a “pattern of racketeering activity” connected to an “enterprise.” An enterprise can be any business, organization, or group of associated individuals, whether it’s legitimate or illegitimate. The racketeering activity is defined as certain state and federal crimes, including:
To charge someone under RICO, prosecutors have to prove a defendant engaged in at least two of these predicate acts within a 10-year period. The crimes also have to demonstrate a pattern of illegal activity and be related to the enterprise.
Fighting RICO charges requires attacking the prosecution’s evidence on one or more of the required elements. Here are some of the main defenses we frequently employ in these cases:
We scrutinize the alleged enterprise to determine if the association-in-fact qualifies under RICO. For example, a loosely affiliated group without any hierarchy, organization, or common purpose may not meet the definition.
We analyze whether the predicate acts were actually committed, if they are sufficiently related, and if there is continuity of illegal conduct versus isolated incidents. These issues can defeat the pattern requirement.
If the defendant was merely associated with the enterprise but did not actively participate in directing its affairs, then the participation element is lacking. We emphasize actions versus status.
We probe the mental state and intent of the defendant with respect to the RICO allegations. Things like good faith reliance on professionals, lack of knowledge, or intent to comply with the law can negate criminal intent.
If the last predicate act falls outside the 5-year limitations period, the pattern requirement is not satisfied. Older crimes usually cannot be used to establish a RICO charge.
In addition to these defenses, we thoroughly examine the evidence to identify illegal searches, procedural defects, unreliable witnesses, and any other weaknesses we can exploit to raise reasonable doubt of guilt.
RICO is an attractive tool for prosecutors because it allows them to link various defendants and crimes under one umbrella prosecution. It enables them to build expansive cases against multiple members of a criminal organization.
RICO also provides stiffer penalties and gives the government broad power to seize assets. Many federal prosecutors’ offices have dedicated RICO units that proactively pursue complex organized crime cases. The potential prison sentences and fines provide leverage for prosecutors during plea negotiations as well.
Defendants face an uphill battle when fighting RICO allegations given the breadth of the law and severity of penalties. Building an aggressive defense requires experience with these unique charges and a willingness to take the case to trial if necessary.
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